Shaoxing Wine: Chinese Ingredients – The Woks of Life
Shaoxing wine is perhaps the most common ingredient in The Woks of Life you’ve never heard of. If you’ve ever wondered why your homemade Chinese food doesn’t taste like what you’d get in a restaurant, Shaoxing wine may be the key missing item!
We order Shaoxing wine in many recipes, from stir-fries to dumplings and wontons, and it’s another fundamental ingredient found on our list of 10 Chinese Pantry Essentials.
But what is Shaoxing wine? Where can you buy it? Is there a substitution for it? We’ll cover that and more in this quick article.
What is Shaoxing wine?
or shàoxīng jiǔ (绍兴酒), is a type of Chinese rice wine that comes from Shaoxing, a city in China’s Zhejiang province famous for rice wine production. It’s a key ingredient in many dishes and will create that authentic restaurant flavor that you may have found difficult to replicate at home.
With the first records mentioning it more than 2000 years ago, Shaoxing wine is one of the oldest forms of rice wine in China. The production process involves the fermentation of rice, water and a small amount of wheat (note that it contains wheat, so it is not gluten-free. If you’re gluten intolerant, check out the substitutions section towards the end of this post.) Clear rather than cloudy, it has a dark amber color, with a slightly sweet and fragrant aroma.
Aged Shaoxing wine can be consumed as a beverage, usually heated beforehand. For cooking, however, we use lower quality Shaoxing wine with added salt to 1) avoid an alcohol tax and 2) allow it to be sold in regular grocery stores.
This amber rice wine
differs from light rice cooking wine, or mǐjiǔ (米酒), in that it has a more complex and deeper flavor. Comparing the lighter taste of rice wine to Shaoxing wine is like the difference between using salt or light soy sauce. One is more purely salty, while the other adds a richer flavor.
In fact, we have visited Shaoxing City in China to learn more about ancient wine production! In a couple of the photos below, you can see the style of clay jars that used to store wine.
<img src="https://thewoksoflife.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/shaoxing-wine-3-1.jpg" alt="Shaoxing wine jars
, thewoksoflife.com” />
wine is also sometimes called hua
diao wine (huādiāo jiǔ, 花雕酒), which translates to “carved flower wine” to describe the design of the flower carved into the clay jars that were once used to store and age it.
This alternative name can also be spelled, “hua tiao chiew” (remnants of an ancient 19th century romanization system for the Chinese called Wade-Giles).
Chia Fan wine (jiā fàn jiǔ, 加饭酒) is another name you can see on some bottles. It is similar to hua diao wine. These Shaoxing wines are made with more rice during the brewing process, hence the name chia fan, which literally means “adding rice.”
There are also alternative spellings, including “shao xing wine” or “shaohsing wine”. They are all the same type of cooking wine.
How is it used?
Like the use of wine in Western dishes, Shaoxing wine adds depth and complexity of flavor. We use it in meat marinades, as a flavoring agent in wonton or dumpling fillings, to deglaze our wok and add flavor to stir-fries, and to add flavor to sauces and stews. We would dare to say that the vast majority of our tasty recipes contain Shaoxing wine. Shaoxing wine is particularly essential for hong shao or dishes cooked in red such as Chinese braised fish (Hong Shao Yu) and Shanghai-style braised pork belly (Hong Shao Rou). It appears in large quantities in braised dishes, (our braised fish recipe calls for 3/4 cup!), while a marinade or stir-fry usually contains only a tablespoon or two.
<img src="https://thewoksoflife.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/chinese-braised-fish-11.jpg" alt="
Chinese stewed fish (Hongshao Yu), by thewoksoflife.com” />
It’s also the star of a traditional cold snack aptly called “Drunken Chicken,” in which chicken is cooked and then soaked in a brine of Shaoxing wine and other condiments. This “drunk” brine method can also be applied to seafood, such as shrimp and crabs.
Again, there are high-quality Shaoxing types of Shaoxing wine made for drinking (usually served hot), but in the United States, salt is added to wine to avoid alcohol taxes and to allow it to be sold in stores where regular wine/liquor cannot be sold. The taste of wine sold in most stores Edibles for cooking is therefore brackish and not for drinking!
Buying and storing
Shaoxing wine can be commonly found in any Chinese grocery store, and there are quite a few brands. Most of them come in a red bottle (one brand seems to have created the design and others followed suit).
<img src="https://thewoksoflife.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/shaoxing-wine-3.jpg" alt="Shao Xing wine on store shelf
, thewoksoflife.com” />
The bottom line is to buy, try and trade if you’re not happy. Often, we will buy a regular-sized bottle as well as the gallon jugs at our local market to refill that smaller bottle as we use a lot. It’s inexpensive and keeps well in the pantry.
Just place it
in a cool, dark place and keep it sealed. It will remain in the pantry for up to 6 months, according to our experience. If you don’t use it as often, you can refrigerate it to keep it longer.
As for quality and price, the general rule is that the more expensive the wine, the higher the quality (less salty, more taste). Use higher quality hua diao Shaoxing wine for dishes like Chinese Drunken Chicken, where the taste of the wine is very important to the dish.
As you can see, the bottle of Shaoxing wine in the photo below costs around $5 (considered expensive). You can get a cheap bottle of Shaoxing wine to cook every day at just $2.
<img src="https://thewoksoflife.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/shaoxing-wine.jpg" alt="
Hua Diao Shaoxing cooking
wine, thewoksoflife.com” />
We often keep two different bottles in our pantry, one for cooking every day (left) and one for special uses (right).
Substitutions for wine
Shaoxing “Is there a substitute for Shaoxing wine?” is one of the most common questions we receive on the blog.
If you want to cook Chinese dishes
often at home, we suggest you go to your nearest Chinese market to buy a bottle (you can also buy it online, although at double or triple the price of buying it in a store), because you will use it in the vast majority of the dishes you cook, and its taste makes all the difference.
, If you really can’t locate it or want a quick replacement for a one-time cooking experiment, the most common substitute we recommend is dry cooking sherry, which is available in any supermarket
If you have it on hand, you can also substitute it for any other Chinese rice wine. In small quantities, you can also substitute Japanese/Korean wines such as soju or sake. We hesitate to suggest substituting a more commonly found Japanese rice wine seasoning called mirin, but it can be used in a pinch. Just know that the dish will not taste authentically Chinese, and you need to eliminate the sugar required in the recipe, since mirin is much sweeter than Shaoxing wine.
Non-alcoholic substitute for Shaoxing
wine Most of the alcohol in wine is cooked during the cooking process at high temperatures (in the case of stir-fries) or the
long cooking process (in the case of stews).
However, if you cannot consume alcohol for health, religious or personal reasons, The most common non-alcoholic substitution we recommend in a stir-fry or sauce application (in amounts equal to or less than 2 tablespoons) is chicken, mushrooms, or vegetable broth.
You can also try a non-alcoholic beer or non-alcoholic white wine, although these products may contain traces of alcohol
In recipes where Shaoxing wine is used in amounts less than 1 tablespoon, you can skip it.
Other substitutions will depend on the situation, but you can always ask us in the comments for any particular recipe!
Our favorite dishes that use this ingredient:
- (red cooked
- Three-cup instant pot
- The only dumpling recipe you’ll need
chicken Chinese stewed fish Shanghai style braised pork belly
chicken pork belly
If you have more questions about Shaoxing wine, please let us know in the comments, We try to respond to each one.